“Wherever you are, I will find you and I will bring you home.”
A plethora of organizations across North America have made aftercare their mission. They operate independently, continuously struggle for funding, and don’t have the resources to accept nearly enough unwanted horses.
Some aftercare nonprofits specialize by breed whereas others accept horses irrespective of ancestry. Facilities differ greatly in their financial underpinnings and quality of care, and are generally not regulated by government.
The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, or TAA, was launched in 2012 on start-up money from Breeders’ Cup Ltd., The Jockey Club, and Keeneland Association, Inc. with the charge to inspect, accredit, and award grants to TAA-approved aftercare facilities for Thoroughbreds. The TAA is now supported by a cross-section of industry institutions and individuals.
Stacie Clark, Operations Consultant to the TAA, cogently summarizes the organization’s raison d’etre as “to complete the life cycle of the Thoroughbred horse in the racing and breeding business.”
Both the American Humane Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners reviewed and accepted TAA’s Code of Standards and accreditation process. The TAA imprimatur is conferred for two years at a time, and once an aftercare organization has been endorsed, it becomes eligible for funding.
TAA has certified approximately 56 non-profits managing 180 aftercare operations. Each retrains and finds homes for Thoroughbred horses their owners no longer want or cannot keep. Since its founding, TAA affiliates, true angels of mercy, have assisted some 5,000 horses through rescue, rehabilitation, training, adoption, and occasionally euthanasia.
Aftercare operations almost always run at or near full capacity, and turning away horses is a persistent dilemma. For example, Karen Gustin, executive director of the Kentucky Equine Humane Center, says the center has room for 50 horses and is full 90% of the time. However, she adds, “We will always take a horse in crisis. If we get a call from Animal Control, which has just taken custody of a horse through abuse, neglect, or abandonment and there are no facilities to hold the horse, we would accept it. All other horses are prioritized.”
Beverly Strauss, co-founder and executive director of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue in Maryland, estimates that her organization receives 100 requests every year to provide a safe harbor for horses for which it has no room: “We get calls all the time about Thoroughbreds in kill pens and many more from people who want to donate their older Thoroughbreds.”
Program Director Anna Ford of New Vocations apprises that the umbrella organization’s six locations in Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania board 100-110 horses at any given time and are always at maximum capacity. In 2015, New Vocations accepted 430 horses. Hence, on average, a horse stays at a center for about three months. In comparison, the Kentucky Equine Humane Center has a turnover rate of approximately six months. Most aftercare facilities fall into this range of several months to a half year.
LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society is based on the backstretch at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto and admits racehorses offered by the local racing community. Thereafter, the animals are sent to eleven foster farms in the Greater Toronto area with a total capacity of 55 horses. LongRun is in the midst of a capital campaign to purchase its own farm.
Some aftercare operations do not rescue horses at auction, but rather only acquire those donated by their owners or seized by government animal-welfare agencies. By contrast, other facilities are active in rescuing imperiled auction horses and incur the incremental costs of purchasing and transporting.
The majority of horses rescued by MidAtlantic Horse Rescue are bought at auction and only a small percentage come directly from racetracks. Ms. Strauss points out how social media has inflated auction prices. She used to be able to spend between $400 and $500 for a horse at auction, but often can no longer do so: “…kill buyers are realizing that they can make money buying Thoroughbreds and reselling them through social media, so they are now paying top dollar for Thoroughbreds at auction. We try to stay under $750…sometimes we can get them for a few hundred dollars, sometimes we get outbid above $750.”
Aftercare personnel occasionally come across a picture posted on Facebook of a horse purported to be a Thoroughbred. The horse’s owner is sometimes soliciting bids from anyone looking to spare the animal from being sold to a slaughterhouse. The would-be seller may not reveal the horse’s name or tattoo number in advance so that the ownership chain can’t be traced until after the horse is sold.
A number of aftercare advocates won’t aggressively bid against mercenaries for at-risk horses. Their reasoning is that doing so only inflates prices and encourages “hostage-taking,” and there is plenty of sordid evidence to support this view (click here for a case-in-point).
Wendy Muir, LongRun’s executive administrator, conveys that the organization does not attend horse auctions but in some cases “We have gone so far as to help an Ontario-bred horse–with the assistance of its breeder–who ended up in a kill pen in the States. We have paid anywhere from $500 to $1,500 depending on the situation and demands. We are …putting together a specific process people must follow if they want our assistance in the future as these requests are almost becoming a ransom.”
Costs and Resources
Monthly outlays for maintaining a rescued horse vary substantially by geographical location and also depend on a horse’s physical condition; therefore averages can be misleading. The upkeep for one horse–including board, veterinary care, farrier, hauling, and rent and utilities—ranges from around $475 in lower cost venues to $750 in the most expensive places. These dollar figures are deceivingly low because out-of-pocket costs are held down by unpaid volunteers and pro bono work by veterinarians, farriers, accountants, and attorneys, as well as by donations of medications and supplies.
Neigh Savers, domiciled in California, publicly itemizes on its website the approximate costs of rescuing an animal from auction and subsequently maintaining it each month, as follows.
Rescue from auction, $100-$400
Hauling to Neigh Savers, $150-$300
Average monthly board, $350-$550
Farrier trim or two shoes, $50-$100
Veterinary care, $150-$1,000
Average monthly cost, $750
Whenever it is necessary to euthanize a horse, the going rate for the procedure and disposal of the remains are in the neighborhood of $400. However, veterinarians regularly extend discounts to aftercare facilities and their generosity brings the outlay down to as low as $50-$125.
Aftercare organizations rely on a combination of full-time and part-time employees who are assisted by a cadre of regular and sporadic volunteers. The Thoroughbred Rehab Center, for instance, is a small facility with one part-time office manager on its staff and no full-time employees who help founder and CEO Leigh Gray. At the other end of the spectrum, the much larger New Vocations, with its multiple geographic operations, has seven full-time employees, four contracted employees, and over 20 volunteers who help with events.
Generating adequate cash flows to meet day-to-day operations and to support capital expenditures is an endless and worrisome endeavor. Accordingly, some of the larger aftercare organizations have a person whose primary task is fundraising.
Operating and capital funds come from direct mail campaigns, social-media messaging, special events, adoption fees for outplaced horses, grants like those provided by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and Thoroughbred Charities of America, and unsolicited contributions from individuals. LongRun in Canada receives one half of one percent of purse money from Woodbine and Fort Erie under an agreement arranged by the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and approved by the Ontario Racing Commission; LongRun reportedly received $343,500 in 2015.
Adoption fees run the gamut from nothing for permanently injured and un-ridable horses that serve as companion animals to $2,500 or more for top-of-the-line mounts. Price points depend on a horse’s age, soundness, temperament, and suitability for riding or sports competition.
Saving More Horses
Based on an average total monthly maintenance expenditure of $650 per horse, $7.8 million would be required annually to board and maintain 2,000 horses that would ordinarily enter the slaughter pipeline, provided that the normal stay at an aftercare facility is for six months prior to outplacement. The $650 figure for monthly upkeep is deliberately set toward the high end of the range in order to make a cautious estimate of how many horses could be accommodated. In addition, some aftercare operations turn over their horses more rapidly than six months.
Thus, in 2015, $25.5 million to $30.6 million would have been required to achieve the “stretch goal” of saving the vast majority of the estimated 6,535-7,842 U. S.-domiciled Thoroughbreds sent to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, not counting the capital expenditures necessary to provide land and infrastructure for the horses. (A sidebar at the end of this article pertains to stretch goals).
The good news is that over time the amount of money needed is all but sure to decline because the Thoroughbred population is decreasing owing to smaller foal crops and an overall demographic skewed to older horses.
An important unknown in estimating resource requirements is how quickly aftercare facilities could find suitable homes for 2,000 or more horses. Also, the escalating costs of rescuing some of the animals have to be factored in to the calculations. Success by aftercare organizations in saving more horses, coupled with a decreasing horse population, contracts supply and drives up prices.
At the present time, the existing aftercare infrastructure is already bursting at the figurative seams and could not accept several thousand more horses on an annual basis. Capital campaigns would be needed to enlarge retirement operations, and expansion is an expensive proposition.
The subject of Part III in this series is how to address aftercare funding requirements.
General Electric, Inc., under the guidance of legendary Chairman and CEO Jack Welch, instituted the concept of “stretch goals.” In his 1993 letter to shareholders, Welch explained “stretch is a concept that would have produced smirks, if not laughter, in the GE of three or four years ago, because it essentially means using dreams to set business targets—with no real idea of how to get there. If you do know how to get there, it’s not a stretch target.” Stretch goals force and encourage innovation and creativity and new ways of doing things, rather than falling back on the defeatist excuse “it is impossible to achieve.”
Copyright ©2016 Horse Racing Business
Part III will appear on September 15, 2016 at noon eastern time.
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